Hooray, it’s back to school season! Your children may have attended in-person classes the past year or this may be their first time returning to the classroom at all. Either way, back together in school unfortunately means one unwelcome nuisance has the potential to show up too—head lice. Know the causes, signs, and how to treat an infestation so your child won’t miss out on any more in-person learning.
What are lice?
Lice are small parasites spread by close human to human contact. They are brown in color and are the approximate size of a sesame seed. Lice are highly contagious nuisance and can cause severe discomfort among children and adults.
The most reported symptoms are:
- Relentless itching
- A tickling or crawling feeling on your head, hair or body
- Red bumps and/or sores that develop from scratching
- Irritability and/or difficulty sleeping
Where can I contract lice?
Lice can be found in your hair or on your body. All lice are spread from being in close contact with another person who is infected. Be cautious in these situations:
- At schools, daycares, playdates
- During sports practices/games, other activities with close contact
- Sharing clothing such as hats and jackets
- Sharing hairbrushes, hair clips/ties, headbands, etc.
How do I know if I (or my children) have lice?
If you’re suffering from uncomfortable itchiness, it could be caused by skin conditions such as dandruff, eczema, allergies, or reactions to certain skin products. However, it may be best to check for lice as they are highly contagious especially if you have school-aged children.
Follow these steps to check for lice:
- Wet your hair/your child’s hair. This slows down lice so they’re easier to spot.
- Using a fine-tooth comb, part the hair. Lice combs can be found online and in pharmacies but are not necessary.
- Shine a bright light onto scalp. If you see tiny, brown insects moving or nits (eggs) fixed onto individual hair strands, you should seek a lice treatment immediately.
- If unsure, see a healthcare professional as soon as possible.
How do I treat a lice infestation?
If you’re certain that you or your child has lice, it’s best to act right away. There are over the counter (OTC) shampoos and treatment kits to help with eradicating lice. There are also medicated lotions and shampoos that are prescribed by a doctor.
In addition to treating lice at the source, it’s also important to do the following:
- Launder bedding and clothes worn in the two days before treatment
- Wash with hot water and use a high-heat dry cycle
- Wash backpacks, hats, jackets—anything that may have had contact with lice
- Place sofa cushions or car seats into a plastic bag. Don’t touch for two weeks.
- Lice will die within 1-2 days without human contact
- Sanitize brushes and combs
- submerge in a pot of hot water for up to ten minutes
- Vacuum the floors in your home
- Lice cannot survive without human contact or in a cooler temperature
Facts about lice:
It’s no surprise that there is a stigma associated with lice. However, it’s important to be armed with the facts.
- Lice are not a sign of poor hygiene
- Head lice do not carry viral or bacterial diseases
- Lice do not go away on their own
- Lice cannot “jump” from one person to another (they only crawl)
- Treatments such as smearing mayonnaise, butter, olive oil or margarine into hair and scalp will NOT eradicate head lice
- You do not need to fumigate or use harmful chemicals to clean your home.
To prevent a possible lice infestation, tell your children not to share clothing or personal items, be aware of any symptoms, and have a plan to quickly act if someone in your household accidentally contracts lice. Although it may be a headache to treat and clean, contracting lice is quite common and highly treatable.